Hungarian athletes' memorable interactions with Queen Elizabeth II
What has Her Majesty's coronation to do with the trauma of the 6:3 in London in 1953? Who was the referee from Budapest whom the monarch greeted personally on the football pitch? Why did the mention of the Soviet-Hungarian Friendship “Agricultural Co-operative” of Kecskemét bring back bitter memories? Why did she tell Népsport's journalist about the events at the opening ceremony of the Montreal Olympics? How did the winner of the Miklós Toldi competition, who showed the way to Buda with a long pole for two minutes and fifteen seconds, amaze her? As the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022) approaches on Monday, we have gathered together some of her personal memories from Hungarian sporting life.
|The British monarch greets the host team at the opening ceremony of the 1966 World Cup in England, with referee István Zsolt in the background, turning his back towards the crowd (PHOTO: AFP)|
Even if Her Majesty did follow the England-Hungary match, it was only by the newly available device as she was not present at Wembley. We know this from the recollection of the then president of the Hungarian Football Federation, Sándor Barcs, who confessed like a fan. "I am not fully protocol-ready when we play a big match. But I had to be very protocol-ready for the England-Hungary match because I was invited to the Queen's lodge. ‘The Queen will probably be present, too!' they said. Good heavens! I must watch the match of the century in silence! [...] The Queen didn't come, but her uncle, an old prince did, and I had to sit on his right. To my right sat a less old prince. Well, I can't root here at all! I looked around sadly. Not far from me was Comrade János Katona, our ambassador in London, and further away was Pali Titkos, then Secretary General."
|“The grass blades were straightened, the tree leaves were made shiny,” wrote Nemzeti Sport about the preparations for Elizabeth II's visit to Bugac and the horse show in the Puszta 1993 (PHOTO: MTI)|
The sequel reveals that the President and the Secretary General, with strong self-restraint, kept their composure among the fine English gentlemen after Nándor Hidegkuti's leading goal. Instead of loud cheers, they acknowledged the positive turn of events with quiet tears of joy. Even if the British monarch did not meet the Hungarian winners in person, she sent them some sort of royal gift. In an interview in 2003, the daughter of head coach Gusztáv, Erzsébet Sebes, mentioned the silver fruit bowl they received from the Queen of the United Kingdom when she described her father's glorious return to Hungary.
"Then the Queen of the United Kingdom will fall!" Nándor Hidegkuti joked with his listeners when was asked before the 1966 World Cup in England what would happen if the host team was defeated. But the throne of Elizabeth II was not shaken by Alf Ramsey's team, so much so that she herself presented Bobby Moore, the newly appointed England captain, with the Jules Rimet trophy after the final win over West Germany. The tournament not only ended with the Queen but also began with her. As Pál Borbély reported from the scene: “She greeted the guests with true ladylike charm and then said the historic sports sentence: 'It now gives me great pleasure to declare open the eighth World Football Championships.'”
|The Queen watched from the stands as the Hungarian referee sorted things out at the England-Uruguay World Cup match (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)|
"Before the carriage driving competition, Queen Elizabeth visited the Hungarian horses," Dezső Fehér, Deputy Director of the Horse Breeding and Racing Directorate told Magyar Hírlap. "In the huge stable, our smaller than usual grey half-breeds did not look good. The Queen didn't remain silent: 'These horses are so small,' she remarked when she received the recently published picture booklet on the Hungarian horse from me. Then, when I sat by her side at the gala dinner at the end of the race, she changed her statement: ‘Mr. Abonyi is a master of the drive, and his horses turn like ballerinas when they have to, and when they have to, they are so fast that even I can't catch up with them.'"
We learn from the report that the members of the royal family also got on their horses during the cross-country race, so they could experience the speed of Imre Abonyi and his horses. Queen Elizabeth said the following at dinner: “When we were riding through the forest behind the Hungarian carriage, we stopped to listen for the sound of the Hungarian bell. But we only heard the bells, we couldn't catch up with the carriage."
The English nobility had the opportunity to learn about the nature of Hungarian horses later on. According to the Hungarian sports paper's recollection, the queen of Buckingham Palace learned about the scare at the 1984 World Driving Championships in Szilvásvárad from her husband's reports.
"Prince Philip spoke to his wife daily on the phone. Queen Elizabeth was not unreasonably worried because she knew very well that horse racing was not a harmless sport. But there were no major problems at this World Championships, Prince Philip finished second in the dressage and also came through the difficult marathon carriage without tipping over. However, a small mishap almost happened... The Prince's horses "lived" in the stables, and a hot-blooded Hungarian stallion had a craving for one of the Prince's beautiful mares. The stallion kept galloping until he broke the chain and headed for the foreign "guest." There was a big panic, but the grooms intervened in time so that the prince's mare was able to leave innocent but without a beautiful memory..."
|Sprint canoer Erzsébet Horváth's treasured photo of the guest of the Montreal Olympic Village|
Oddities sometimes happened at the Queen's court. For example, in an interview in the 1990s, Hungarian world champion in driving, György Bárdos, called the British kelp specialty served as an appetizer at Queen Elizabeth's dinner as the greatest culinary challenge of his life. There were some Hungarian sportsmen and women who had more pleasant memories of the great encounter. Erzsébet Horváth, a spring canoer from Győr, born in 1952, got close to her illustrious namesake as a reserve for the 1976 Hungarian team in Montreal, and even took a photo of the rare guest.
"Two bodyguards accompanied her in the village. Princess Anne was with her. She was celebrating her birthday that day. The Queen went up to everyone who also had a birthday and shook hands with them. We happened to be dining at the long table where Princess Anne was introduced and her birthday was announced. After giving her the gifts, the Queen invited everyone to a drink served by uniformed staff," reads the book Arrabona's Olympians from Tokyo to Atlanta.
The meeting with Queen Elizabeth II of England at the 1955 England-Hungary athletics championships was an unforgettable experience in London. In my sporting career, I have shaken hands with Mátyás Rákosi, János Kádár, and Fidel Castro, but the first place goes to the Queen, she is above all of them. I'm proud to say that I'm only three years younger than her but my memories are still vivid. The year before the trip to London, we won the European Championships, and we beat the hosts in the 4×110-yard relay in England – for an hour and a half or two we thought we had run a world record. Then a well-informed sports journalist told us that, meanwhile, across the ocean, the American relay was doing even better than ours. As for the individual race, that's where Zarándi's stupidity came in, unfortunately, I became a good target of jokes after that... What happened was that I was leading confidently at sixty yards, and I started celebrating. Then it turned out that there were fifty more yards to go in the race, and the others had passed me. Afterwards, the Queen congratulated the winning Hungarian team, but I remember well that we had been carefully trained before the event. We were told how to hold the queen's gloved hand and how to imitate a hand kiss without actually touching it with our lips. This experience cannot be described, but fortunately, there are photographs of the occasion. I boast about it and proudly show them my five grandchildren, but unfortunately, my two great-grandchildren are in vain because are only three and one and a half years old.
Sports journalist István Szombathy had a word with Her Majesty in Canada, which is part of the British Commonwealth, at the reception on the board of the Queen's boat who arrived for the Summer Games.
"But what the hell shall I tell her? - he recalled his struggles before the protocol greeting in the pages of Népsport. “The next moment I was standing in front of the Queen, and I greeted her. I must say she was very cordial, no grimace was visible, and even her dress was the simplest. What shall I say, what shall I say? Then I suddenly thought of what to talk to her about. I arrived in Montreal the day after the Olympics opened, so I didn't see the opening ceremony. I figured it was the big moment. To ask the Queen - ordinary people call such interviewees informers (don't they?) - how it was. Not all journalists can say that about themselves either!... ‘It was very nice,' said the Queen. ‘It was very nice to see one of the aims of sports: to bring people together. And to also see how diverse this huge country is with its French, English, and, of course, Native Americans, who, of course, don't live like they used to. When the Queen saw that I was really interested in what she was talking about, she put on a real little show and told me the main events of the ceremony from beginning to end."
|Pakucza József (Photo: MTI)|
We will not bore the reader with the details of this. However, we would like to mention that Ferenc Árok, the football coach born in Magyarkanizsa in Délvidék (Serbia), who died last year, was awarded the Order of Australia by the Queen in 1990 for his work as Australia's head coach. The Queen's handshake remains a privilege for few Hungarians, and perhaps the most surprising member of the select company is József Pakucza of Békéscsaba, who won the Miklós Toldi competition in the 1980s after throwing a millstone four meters and then leading the way to Buda with a three-meter-long pole for two minutes and fifteen seconds. Later, out of competition, he tolerated being run over by a Trabant without a whimper, so it's no wonder that his strange skills soon caught the attention of the world's circuses. After his conquest of the Budapest Circus, he toured South America and Western Europe and was invited to London for the Christmas revue at Exhibition Hall. But from here, let's give the floor to the modern Miklós Toldi, who was interviewed in 1993 by Nemzeti Sport. “While warming up, the boss suddenly said that I must pay close attention tonight because the Queen would be present. It may not sound pretentious, but when I put on the props that remind me of a Roman soldier, the outside world disappears, so I wasn't paying attention. Fortunately, at the beginning of our event, we bow to the lodge of honor. Well, when I looked up, I remembered what Mr. Cottle said. At the end of the performance, Queen Elizabeth congratulated me. What's more, she shook hands twice after the photographers missed the first one..."
The British monarch's visit to Hungary in 1993 was followed by the Hungarian sports daily, although the only event on the packed schedule that was indirectly related to sports was the horse show on the Puszta. Ferenc Róth, however, gave a very sensitive description of the preparations for the event in his report: “The grass blades were straightened, the tree leaves were made shiny, the walls of the houses were painted dazzling white, and the cows by the roadside were ordered to stand at attention on Bugac.”
Similar preparations are underway in London ahead of Monday's event, and the television will be worth turning on again as it was in 1953. In Bugac, Békéscsaba, and Budapest as well.
Hungarian athletes have had memorable adventures with other kings and monarchs besides Elizabeth II. Some played tennis with Her Majesty, others coached football in her service, and some just raised a glass to her.
Alfréd Hajós said so
There is a well-known anecdote about the first Hungarian Olympic champion, Alfréd Hajós meeting with King George I of Greece, who was attending the Athens Olympics, in 1896. "Where did you learn to swim so well?" His Majesty asked the winner of the 100 and 1200-meter at the post-race reception. To which the young athlete gave the obvious answer: "In the water."
At the Hungarian royal tomb
"It was late in the evening when the touring group descended the mountain. There were tears in everyone's eyes as we saw the orphaned desolation of the tomb of the deceased king, thousands and thousands of kilometers from his homeland. The orphaned tomb had just received its first Hungarian visitors, and these Hungarians were the people of Szombathely, the sons of the King's beloved city!" - Nemzeti Sport wrote about the January 1925 tour of Szombathelyi AK to Madeira, during which the football team found a way to visit the tomb of the last Hungarian king, Charles IV.
Dinner of the Romanian King
Sports historian András Killyéni recorded a peculiar adventure of Transylvanian athletes with the Romanian King Charles II. “After a tournament in the 1930s, the king invited the fencers to dinner at his castle in Sinaia. Before the reception, the fencers were instructed on how to behave and what to watch out for, so that their behavior would not be blatant or offensive. One of the golden rules was that when the king had finished his meal, everyone had to stop eating. In the castle, a long table was laid for the guests, and the fencers were seated at the end of the table. The king greeted his guests and then ate his dinner. By the time the fencers were served, the King had finished his meal, leaving the athletes from Cluj Napoca hungry. They staved off their hunger in a restaurant, chuckling at the strange dinner and royal customs."
László Gyetvai, the late Ferencváros footballer who died in 2013, said that one of the main characters on the night after the Scotland-Hungary match (3:1) in Glasgow on December 7, 1938, was King George VI, who was not even present. "I was a national team player for the first time in Scotland in the winter of 1938, and after the match, we had to clink glasses with whisky at the banquet. The fact that we had to was literal: after about the sixth glass, Gyula Lázár remarked that if this went on, we'd have to be dragged out. He was not right, but I can't say that the team remained sober either because we toasted to the health of King George VI and Governor Miklós Horthy thirty-two times. This is not a joke: thirty-two times! And I have grown fond of whisky."
Tennis parties with His Majesty
King Gustave V of Sweden (known as Mr. G. in tennis tournaments) played tennis with József Asbóth on several occasions, and he was so concerned about the fate of his playing partner that he sent him a telegram in 1946 through his secretary. In the message, he expressed his joy that the Hungarian sportsman had survived the world war. In 1943, the tennis-loving monarch played against Asbóth, among others, at the inauguration of the world's largest tennis hall in Sweden, and a newsreel of the event has survived.
In the service of the EmperorJózsef Háda, the former Ferencváros goalkeeper, worked as an employee of the Ethiopian emperor Hailé Selassie in the African country for a while. "In Ethiopia, I was in charge of the training of the imperial guard team. Did the emperor like sport? I wouldn't say he was always sitting in the stands, but he did occasionally turn up for a match. He supported sports and valued serious achievements. His bodyguard, Olympic champion runner Bikila, often trained with us. Then, in 1961, after the first revolution, the bodyguard was dismissed, and I had no team or contract left."